Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for law enforcement, but Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is working to help them and other first responders get the mental health resources they need.
Next week, May 15-21, is National Police Week, a time to honor the police officers who have died in the line of duty over the last year, Brown said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday.
“We can’t begin to repay the debt we owe these Ohioans and their families,” he said. “We can work to better support first responders and the communities they swear an oath to protect.”
That is why Brown joined Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to introduce the Fighting Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Act of 2022.
The legislation would increase mental health support for all first responders.
“We don’t think enough about law enforcement officers suffering post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said. “These Ohioans deal with some of the most stressful, life-threatening incidents in our communities ... When somebody can’t be saved, we know the guilt that can come with that, even when the tragic loss of life is through no fault of the first responder, puts him at risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder.”
The country simply doesn’t provide the mental health services needed to help these officers and first responders, Brown said, leading “far too many” police officers to commit suicide.
Local police and fire departments don’t have the resources they need to offer wraparound services they deserve.
“That’s why our bill would direct the Department of Justice to work with local officers and other community organizations to establish programs to offer first responders the treatment options they need for acute stress disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder,” Brown said. “There are already groups in Ohio doing this work, trying to fill in the gaps. They need resources and support to scale up these programs.”
Brown was joined on the call by Jason Pappas, vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio.
He thanked Brown for the work he’s doing and called PTSD a “critical issue” for law enforcement.
“We’re losing way too many law enforcement officers, both active and retired, to suicide, it’s the leading cause of death in law enforcement officers,” he said. “We do have some resources that are working here in Ohio ... (but) we are in dire need of the financial resources to scale up those services.”
According to Blue H.E.L.P., a 501(c)(3) that collects law enforcement suicide data, four police, fire and corrections officers have died of suicide in Ohio so far this year. The last two years there were 10 each.
Nationwide, 56 first responders (counting corrections, EMS and law enforcement officers as well as firefighters and dispatchers) have died of suicide this year. In 2021, there were 176 such deaths and in 2020 there were 186, According to Blue H.E.L.P.
While taking questions from reporters, Brown broached other topics, including on workforce and abortion.
With a 3.7% unemployment rate in the county and 3.6% rate in the country, businesses are hard-pressed to find workers.
“Almost anybody I meet with tells me they’re challenged to hire people,” Brown said. “Part of that is still people’s fear of the pandemic, part of it is that wages have been stagnant. We know that corporate profits are part of the reason for inflation. Corporate profits are up. Companies especially in shipping and drug companies and oil companies and meat packing companies have raised their prices way beyond inflation and still employees haven’t seen the kind of raises that, I think, most of them deserve.”
He’s working on investing more money in community colleges and scaling up apprenticeship programs.
The infrastructure bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden also means thousands of jobs will be needed for infrastructure work, Brown said.
A problem with Ohio, he added, is that people are leaving.
“Young people leave our state because we have a state legislature that would rather give tax cuts to rich people than invest in public health and education,” Brown said.
Brown was also asked about abortion, specifically a piece of legislation up for vote in the Senate on Wednesday that would enshrine Roe v. Wade into federal law.
Abortion rights have become a major topic of discussion after a draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion was leaked showing the court was poised to overturn the landmark abortion case.
Brown said the bill is unlikely to pass and didn’t expect any such legislation could pass in this Congress.
“(Sen.) Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his party thinks they should be making the decisions instead of women making the decisions about women’s health care,” he said. “It’s clear the overwhelming majority, 70% in most polls ... want Roe v. Wade to stay in place.”